Category Design
Publication date
21 November 2016

UX Ireland Conference Takeaways

The recent UX Ireland conference featured a great line-up of keynoters and speakers such as Jon Kolko (author of acclaimed books including “Well-Designed” or “Exposing the Magic of Design”) and Brenda Laurel. As usual with a conference of this nature, Annertech attended in force, with about 50% of our frontend/design team attending one or both days. I got a lot of takeaways from the talks and workshops: here's a synopsis of them.

UX Ireland conference took place at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, a very modern facility beside the classic grounds of Trinity College. The conference featured a great line-up of keynoters and speakers such as Jon Kolko (author of acclaimed books including “Well-Designed” or “Exposing the Magic of Design”) and Brenda Laurel.

As usual with a conference of this nature, Annertech attended in force, with about 50% of our frontend/design team attending one or both days. I got a lot of takeaways from the talks and workshops: here's a synopsis of them:

Creativity (by involving the whole team in the design process)

The first day started with a great session. Kolko’s “Be the lion tamer: Manage the chaos of creativity” was a joy to watch.

He described how getting the whole team involved in the design process increases creativity. Self-critique is common among designers during the iteration process. Constructively applying that concept to group critique will not only increase creativity but also will make us designers feel better and the rest of the team feel good too. This, in turn, helps to focus and increase trust.

For this to work the designer needs to do certain things: acknowledging feelings, managing ambiguity, letting them run amok, and setting a vision.

His point was interesting on the importance of making the thing first (doesn’t matter if it is good initially) as it will simply start the process and help the team to articulate constraints.

Another takeaway was Jon’s emphasis on rules and how they destroy creativity (unlike the constraints). I really enjoyed the talk, very uplifting.

Design for Scale and Impact

My main takeaway from “Service design at scale: designing for impact” by Oli Shaw was the importance of starting small to lead into the final product. It was very interesting to see how starting with atomic design (and our curiosity to understand the problem) will lead into features (flow, uses cases), the final product and so on.

When (re)designing an interface this is very clear. He gave the example of redesigning a button and how such a seemingly small change can affect loads of different things such as Customer experience, Employees experience, Technology systems, Business processes or even 3rd party/partner business.

As designers we want to prove the value of design, we want to create impact, in one word, we want “change”, because, let’s face it, for us a design “is everything”. He explained the importance of measuring this impact, for us designers to prove our point. Looking at impact has an extra benefit as he said  “looking at how to measure the impact (of a solution) can actually help in focusing on the real problem”.

Understand + Find Patterns + Don't Hi-Fi Everything

I found Denise Burton’s “Design language systems: beware the hobgoblins” one of the highlights of the first day. Starting again at atomic design, I liked her definition of Design Language as the DNA of your brand (what I normally call identity) and her recommendation when creating a Design Language System is to understand that you shouldn’t do it all. Start with the top level nav (for example) and apply to other parts of the design.

Efficiencies and consistency, which are what we want for a good design language system can be achieved by understanding the user, finding patterns and not hi-fing everything. Keeping in mind of course that banality may be an issue if we just “lego” things together, there is a risk of stopping thinking.

Intent for the Good

Day two started with Brenda Laurel and her “Staying grounded in a sea of new 'realities'" key talk which was a history lesson on Virtual Reality that went beyond the present day and into the future. I liked her idea of doing Desig /Research to prove (users) point to the client. It was a very interesting talk.

Yes We Can

Next, I decided to explore the workshops rather than the theoretical sessions and I went to see Matthew Lee running a session about “Research for startups... yes, you can!” which started with an overview of typical research methods (that is, the first half diamond of the first diamond of the The Double Diamond Design Process - not sure I could squeeze the word 'diamond' in there any more!). I really enjoyed how he adapted these to small budgets on what he called research for startups by making it cheap and fast.

He described the excuses clients usually have such us “we don’t have enough money” (Only cost is time), “we don’t have enough time” (one day to one week), “we can follow our gut” (You are not the user) or “my idea is the best” (Humility).

Then Matthew continued with some suggestions on how a guerrilla approach could apply to the startup environment, with ethnographic research/interviews becoming “Field Studies”, stakeholder interviews “Executive Interview”, Focus Groups turning into “Round Table discussions” and Usability Testing becoming “Street Testing”.

A Couple of Workshops to Finish it off

My hands-on experience continued with “ExperienceOps: continuous design in agile teams”, led by Simon Bostock, who highlighted that designers have only a limited amount of control of various elements of the process ranging from an almost 100% control to almost no control. I guess we have to accept that we have no control over certain aspects.

It was followed by another workshop, “Introduction to structured content” by Bonny Colville-Hyde. The first thing I realised as soon as the session started was how much her division of content into taxonomy, content types, fields, paragraphs, etc matches the Drupal world. It was a good session, maybe designers that are not involved in site planning, migration or site building tasks would have found it more revealing.

And that was it.

Overall I think all of the annertechies enjoyed it, I certainly did anyway. As with most conferences, I couldn’t go to all I wanted to. There were really interesting talks by fellow drupalists like Daniel Alb’s “Content is king: the DNA of designing a citizen-centred local authority website for dlrcoco.ie” or Conor Cahill’s “Researching the experiences of people cycling”.

These drupal related talks can possibly be seen again at http://drupalcampcork.com/. If you haven’t registered yet, please do, it is a free event bringing together Drupal developers, themers, end users and those interested in learning more about Drupal for two days of talks, sessions and collaborative discussions. Taking place at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), see you there.

Profile picture for user Ricardo Flores Galan

Ricardo Flores Galán UX Designer

Ricardo is our Lead UX Designer with almost 20 years' experience in the industry. A native of Spain, he is multi-award-winning UX designer, and is a regular contributor at UX events across Europe.